By Ben Gruber
Sept. 23 was the opener for northern zone duck hunting, and on the Friday night before, instead of packing up hunting gear I found myself packing up a tea set and a camping supplies for my daughter, Addy, and myself. The weather forecast included a temperature with a 90 in it, so there was no way I was battling mosquitos and wearing sunscreen to hunt ducks, especially when it would mean battling the opening weekend warriors who flood the marshes to make woeful duck imitation sounds on calls that have not been touched in a year. Instead, I opted to finally make good on a promise to Addy to spend a night in the tent.
We loaded the canoe and some fishing poles, a few hooks, a tent, and blankets and headed for the southern-most unit of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. A quick hour drive north on Highway 13 and then some dirt road travel took us to a Forest Service campground on the Miller Dam Flowage.
It is a large campground with many modern loops for those with RVs and a separate, “rustic” loop for antiques like myself, who think camping means a tent and cooking on a campfire with no TV. We were the only inhabitants of the rustic loop, and I only saw a few campers in the nearby modern campground.
With the tent up and beds made, Addy insisted on getting her tea set out and having a tea party. Once that was complete, we headed for the beach nearby. The water was cool enough to be refreshing from the 88 degree heat but still warm enough to be fun.
On the beach we found a baby snapping turtle that was only a few days old. Addy instantly fell in love with the cute little fella and named him Lou, and he was her constant companion for the remainder of the trip.
Part of me said I should not let her handle the wild critter and leave him be, but the other part of me knows that a weekend pet of a baby snapper might be the experience that creates a young conservationist instead of a teenager who tries to run over turtles. Sometimes, getting hands on with the wild creatures can leave a lasting impression.
Lou the turtle had his own place at the dinner table, and Addy fed him most of our fishing bait, which he did not really eat. He sat at our campfire and went swimming in our cooler. When bedtime came, he had a nest built for him in a small box, lined with sand and rocks from the beach and an old snail shell to “remind him of the beach.” I was glad that our Momma Bear was not along on this trip as I have my doubts that she would have allowed a snapping turtle in the tent.
We woke early as this body of water was popular for local duck hunters. Shooting was pretty steady for the first hour, but I was not jealous. Hunting is supposed to be a cool weather sport, and I get crabby when I get hot.
First thing in the morning, Addy set Lou down on top of me and promptly informed me that she had a dream that Lou was actually a princess, and her name is now Cinderella. With that out of the way, we cooked some eggs over the campfire and loaded the canoe with fishing poles and headed out. We managed to put a good dozen nice bluegills in the boat, all within 200 yards of the landing, and cooked a few up for lunch over the fire.
It was an impromptu trip, taking advantage of some unseasonal weather. Without any advance work or planning, we made a pretty fun weekend out of it. Cinderella was released back into the wild, and hopefully she will always remember being the guest of honor at the tea party at campsite No. 37.
Ben Gruber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.